Over 1 billion people live with a disability. However, the vast majority of folks living with a disability are unemployed — despite the fact they are actively seeking work. This high unemployment rate amongst folks with disabilities is largely due to workplace barriers and lack of accessibility for those living with a disability.
There is no universal definition of accessibility, but the Australian government’s Disability Discrimination Act makes it illegal for persons with disabilities to be discriminated against — both directly and indirectly. This means businesses and governmental organisations should strive to provide the same level of access to services to folks with disabilities as they do for someone who doesn’t have a disability. Striving for an accessible workplace will empower folks with disabilities and give them independence.
But what technologies are furthering accessibility in the workplace today? And how might they be used in the future?
HR leading the way
Human resource departments are responsible for the welfare of a companies’ employees. Traditionally, this means employees can bring their problems and grievances to HR for fair treatment. However, HR’s role has become increasingly proactive as companies see the benefits of planning ahead and ensuring that all employees are accommodated.
HR departments across the globe are leveraging new technology to help employees feel valued and to ensure that all areas of the workplace are accessible. In particular, HR departments are turning towards automation programs which utilise universal design to ensure business practices are accessible for all. This turn to automation also reduces human bias in the recruitment stage, as well-programmed AI won’t discriminate against folks with disabilities in the same way human recruiters might.
The surge in remote working during the pandemic has made the workplace more accessible for those living with disabilities. Surveys report that 44% of Australians are working remotely, even as pandemic restrictions are eased.
An increase in remote working is particularly good news for employees who are disabled. In 2019, 93% of the population with a disability reported that they experienced a barrier to employment. Barriers to employment included transport and a “need for special features” at their jobs. Remote working alleviates these barriers, as transport is not an issue and folks living with disabilities likely have the special features they require already installed in their homes.
Not all industries offer remote working, but the following jobs provide great examples of the careers people can undertake from home:
- Financial Accountant: virtual accountants provide many financial services, all of which can be completed remotely. Key responsibilities usually include financial advising, risk identification, and assessments of financial strategy.
- Video Editor: video editors blend creativity and detail to create videos that meet clients’ needs. Video editors can command a high hourly salary and can find freelance work with flexible hours.
- Software Engineers: software engineers earn an average salary of $110,140 and are part of the booming programming industry. Employees will likely need a bachelor’s to find entry-level work but can expect a great return on their investment.
Of course, workplaces should still strive to be accessible at a minimum, and remote working should not be seen as a fix-all. However, working from home does allow those living with disabilities to pursue engaging and fulfilling careers.
Accessible user design
Millions of employees are pivoting to remote work and are using the internet to complete their duties. This means web accessibility and user design (UX) are vital for employers who are looking to create more accessible workplaces and stay in line with legal requirements.
While new technologies are always emerging, here are a few common steps web developers and companies are taking to ensure the web-based workplace is accessible:
- Colour Awareness: while bright colours might align with a companies’ brand image, they can make it hard for photosensitive users to spend lengthy periods on a site.
- Transcripts: all audio/video content should have a transcript and be clearly subtitled. This helps folks who have visual or auditory impairments and can benefit any employee with ADD.
- Accessible Design: many users rely on screen readers to navigate content online. If websites are not created with screen readers in mind, users will have a hard time understanding content and interacting with things like forms.
- Animations and Automatic Media: web developers must ensure that their content is safe and will not cause seizures. This means flashing content should be avoided and any embedded media should be safe to view.
Web accessibility allows all users to view, navigate, and interact with the content they find online. While remote working does open doors for employees with disabilities, it is vital that employers still consider accessibility when creating or editing their online content.
The last ten years have seen a surge in technologies designed to further accessibility. Transport solutions like annunciation devices on buses and smart walking sticks allow people to navigate public spaces like cities. Similarly, braille keyboards and more sophisticated screen readers help folks with disabilities to engage with computers. Emerging technology like virtual reality and 3D printers may even help employers and government agencies discover accessibility solutions and create cost-effective solutions quickly.
These miscellaneous technologies respond to particular issues folks with disabilities face, and can significantly improve the independence, efficiency and dignity with which disabled people live.
Accessibility is about more than simply ticking a box. It helps all employees feel welcome, boosts retention rates, and ensures businesses are compliant with legal requirements. Ultimately, we all have a role to play in furthering accessibility and can start by advocating for accessible technology in our workplaces.
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